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Canadian activists demand Greece foot bill for fixing boat

By the CNN Wire Staff
Activists sit onboard the Gaza-bound ship "The Tahrir" while it commandeered and towed by Greek Coast Guards.
Activists sit onboard the Gaza-bound ship "The Tahrir" while it commandeered and towed by Greek Coast Guards.
  • Fuel tank was ruptured after the Canadian boat was forced to return toward port
  • The Tahrir is one of 10 boats that initially tried to participate in the flotilla to Gaza
  • "The whole fleet, at this point, is in a position of wait and see," says a spokesman for Canadian Boat Gaza
  • Two of the boats were sabotaged, seven others are unable to leave Greek ports, spokesman says

Athens, Greece (CNN) -- Canadian activists aboard The Tahrir demanded Tuesday that the Greek government repair the boat in which they had tried to sail Monday from Crete toward Gaza in an aborted mission that led to their forced return to port.

The 75-foot boat is one of 10 whose crews are attempting to participate in a flotilla intended to break the Israeli government's control over sea access to Gaza. It was carrying about 40 people when it was intercepted Monday by Greek authorities just a few miles into its planned journey and escorted back to Agios Nikolaos in Crete, said Ehab Latoyef, a spokesman for Canadian Boat Gaza and a member of the activists' steering committee.

During the return voyage, it slammed into a cement wall, rupturing the fuel tank, Latoyef said in a telephone interview. It remained in port Tuesday.

Of the planned flotilla, two boats have been sabotaged and are not seaworthy, seven are being held in Greek ports and only one -- a French boat -- is in international waters, Latoyef said. He would not divulge its plans other than to say, "The whole fleet, at this point, is in a position of wait and see."

Gaza-bound flotilla blocked
  • Gaza
  • Israel
  • Middle East
  • Greece

Also Tuesday, Greek authorities released the three activists from the Canadian boat who were taken into custody Monday after they agreed to appear Wednesday in front of a judge, the group said.

Two of them were expected to get suspended sentences, but the group expressed concern over the charges that may be levied against the third.

In its statement, Canadian Boat Gaza demanded that the Greek authorities end their interference with the flotilla and fix the damage. "This is outrageous and the vessel should be repaired without delay at the expense of Greek authorities," the group's statement said. It also demanded that The Tahrir be relocated "to a safe port of our choosing."

By late Tuesday, Greek authorities had not responded to their demand, Latoyef said.

Last week, the Greek Coast Guard intercepted a U.S. ship in the stalled flotilla, the Audacity of Hope, about 10 minutes after it had left Perama, triggering an hours-long standoff.

The ship -- carrying activists but no humanitarian aid -- was ultimately tied up at a Greek naval facility, and its captain, John Klusmire, was arrested. The Coast Guard said Klusmire had put passengers in danger by leaving the mainland without permission. He was released Tuesday without restriction and without bail but charges were not dropped, the U.S. group said.

On Sunday, Greece's government offered to ship aid to Gaza, a move that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauded but protest organizers and Palestinian authorities rejected as insufficient.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat said Sunday that funneling food, cement and other goods via other means, such as Greek ships, missed the point, which he said is to "immediately lift, not ease" Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza. He lauded those behind the flotilla as people "who have dedicated their time, effort and passion for a just cause."

Israel says its blockade is necessary to try to halt the shipment of weapons into Gaza. Militants in Gaza have launched numerous deadly attacks against Israelis. The territory is run by Hamas, which has carried out dozens of terrorist attacks and is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

Israel emphasizes that it delivers large amounts of aid to Gaza. The country has mounted a diplomatic offensive to try to stop the flotilla from setting sail.

The Israeli government said flotilla participants had threatened to kill Israeli military personnel should their boats be boarded. Israeli officials alleged that the participants were stockpiling sacks of sulfuric acid on boats to be used in the event of any attacks on Israeli commandos.

Flotilla organizer Medea Benjamin dismissed the allegations as ludicrous on June 28, saying, "They see this nonviolent, ragtag group of ships as such a threat they're using their entire propaganda apparatus, and their diplomatic and economic clout to try to stop 300 peace activists. It's pathetic."

The Middle East Quartet -- composed of officials from the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- issued a statement Saturday asking "all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation."

The Quartet added that it "strongly urges all those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels, so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings." Doing so, the group contends, is the best way to both help Palestinians and address Israel's "legitimate security concerns."

Erakat said that while Palestinian leaders "support international engagement in lifting the unjust and inhumane Israeli blockade," the Quartet's statement and its opposition to the planned flotilla to Gaza skirt the broader challenges in the region.

"We invite them to focus on resolving the root cause of the conflict, which is the occupation, rather than seeking ways to manage its destructive symptoms." Erakat said.

CNN's Tom Watkins and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.